It seemed like a swell idea at first: Do away with the so-called "local music-industry insiders" (i.e., guys who work for Sam Paulos) who have traditionally selected the Dallas Observer Music Awards nominees, and simply let the voters fill in the blanks. That's right: No top five hopefuls to choose from, just an empty line--the mark of a true readers' poll.
But by the time we counted all the thousands of ballots, we discovered that there are folks in this town who think Beck deserves the Local Musician of the Year award and at least one voter who'd like to hand over the Female Vocalist award to Ani DiFranco. And that was the easiest thing about tallying this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards. Like, what the hell do you do with the ballots that read, "That guy from that band that put out that record last year on that label run by the really tall guy"? Well, we threw those out. Those, and the ballots containing votes for Edie Brickell, Steve Miller, and Meat Loaf (yet, oddly enough, not those containing votes for Mike Nesmith--hang in there, buddy!).
Honestly, the experiment was far from failed--we prefer to think of it as one with mixed results. That is, for every obvious accolade handed out (Tripping Daisy's near-sweep reminds us of 1993, and when will the Old 97's stop winning the Country & Western statue?), there were myriad new faces to make this whole endeavor worthwhile. Nice to see Lewis, Rob G and the Latin Pimps, Sub Oslo, producer Matt Pence, Jump Rope Girls, and The Eagle's Local Show standing tall in the winner's circle. For a community to thrive--or merely exist, in Dallas' case--it must happily welcome new blood. This may not be a revolution, but it smells a bit like a bloodless coup.
These awards, now in their 142nd year, have never quite reflected the tastes of those who write for the Observer. (How you say in English: duh?) After all, we wonder year after year whether anyone in this town has ever heard of Bedhead, whether Peter Schmidt's singing in a register only dogs and rock critics can hear, and whether Ronnie Dawson's just too cool to win an award. And we're not fooling anyone here. Rock and roll's not a competition, unless you're being booked by Doug Simmons. Winning one of these awards--the Blind Lemons, or something--does not validate an artist's work any more than getting signed to Geffen or getting dropped from Geffen does.
But in the end, an Observer Music Award does mean that at least 74 people like you, which is comforting enough when you're playing to 13 folks at Trees on a Tuesday night. Mazel tov to the winners, and remember: There are no losers. Seriously.
Winner for: Best Act Overall, Musician of the Year (Tim DeLaughter), Songwriter of the Year (Tim DeLaughter), Album of the Year (Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb), Single of the Year ("Sonic Bloom"), Rock/Pop
Imagine the look on Island Records chairman Davitt Sigerson's face after he listened to Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb for the first time. Imagine a shit-eating grin creeping across his face as he heard the sound of his troubled label being rescued from the Seagrams chopping block. Imagine his eyes lighting up, knowing the band had given him a record he could sell to everyone.
Then picture him a minute later, after the members of Tripping Daisy outlined their plan for the album: Oh, you want another "I Got a Girl," huh? Sure, here's half a dozen that are even better...but you have to release this six-minute art-rock explosion first. Daring him to blink. Wanting him to. Saviors one minute, traitors the next. In that split second, Sigerson must have realized that by giving the band more control over its own career, he had somehow lost it all. Tim DeLaughter might as well have reached across the desk and ripped Sigerson's heart out of his chest. And grabbed his wallet while he was at it.
Tripping Daisy had given Sigerson a new red convertible and swallowed the key. To be fair, Sigerson and Island did give Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb a chance. When the album was released last July, the Island Records honcho brashly predicted in the Dallas Observer that it would sell at least 500,000 copies, maybe even more. He called the band's bluff by releasing the six-minute "Waited a Light Year" as the first single. Except the group wasn't bluffing, and the song hit like a water balloon, even after the label trimmed away almost a third of it. The band may call it something else--"artistic freedom," perhaps--but hiding a shiny package like Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb under that much wrapping paper smells a lot like sabotage.